― 89 ―


Strangely enough, amongst prospectors doubt was commonly expressed that Bayley and Ford were the actual discoverers of the far-famed Coolgardie reef known as Bayley's Reward. It was a favourite topic amongst them. They argued about it over bars in bush shanties, in camps and wherever they congregated. Some prospectors gave the credit to three new arrivals in Australia named Harry Baker, Dick Fosser and Tommy Talbot. Baker was from London, Fosser was a Swede, and Talbot, who was then twenty-one years of age, had come from Devonshire. They were all young men, and, owing to the strike on the mines at Southern Cross, were idle when Bayley and Ford rode into Southern Cross for stores. The three men noticed the presence of the two prospectors, who had five pack horses. Bayley and Ford came from the east, they purchased requirements for some months, packed their bags and returned seemingly on their own tracks. Baker, Fosser and Talbot were tired of doing nothing. The spirit of adventure was aroused in them. It was winter, and the weather was cool and pleasant. At my request Talbot wrote for me the following account of their adventures:

“We bought four horses (country types), three pack-saddles and bags, one riding saddle and bridle. We packed about 550 lbs. of rations, and we had our swags in addition. We then got a black fellow who was supposed to know the back country.

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“When we started off we felt we were blessed with the good wishes of our workmates. The trip would be a hard one, but we were in a cheerful, hopeful mood. Three of the horses were laden with our requirements. That meant there was only one saddle horse between the three of us. We took turnabout to ride. Bayley and Ford had followed the track of Hunt, an old-time explorer. The only difficulty we had in keeping to it was when we came to rock catchments. Then it became indistinct.

“The first day we came to rocks about twenty miles from the Cross. It was where Bayley had camped, and we also camped there. During the evening our black fellow was restless. I knew something of the ways of aborigines, having had experience of them with cattle work. I proposed that we should take turns at watching him during the night. I feared he might give us the slip or do us in. He knew we were watching him. I could see that by the way he was watching us. We got him to make his camp near us. The only firearm we possessed was a new .44 Winchester rifle. It was kept between us as we lay down. The long night wore on. The native often sat up, warming himself and all the time keeping his eyes on us. We maintained our vigilance till morning broke.

“Just at daylight the native got up, put the billy on the fire, listened for the sound of the horses' bells and pointed to where they were feeding. It seemed to us that our suspicions were unfounded. Our vigilance was relaxed. He was allowed plenty of latitude. Later, we missed him. We called,

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looked around and went some distance from the camp in search of him. Then the truth dawned on us. He was gone. He had run away and left us to it. His skill as a tracker and his knowledge of the bush were invaluable to us, and his absence we regarded as a serious loss.

“Still, there was no reason why we should not have breakfast; we were hungry and ate heartily whilst we discussed the matter. Black fellow or no black fellow, we were determined to carry on.

“The first few days passed. It was monotonous and tiring plodding on. There was little to cause excitement. It was perplexing at times to follow the track over ironstone hills and granite rocks.”

A heavily laden party with insufficient horses makes slow progress. There was not much change in the appearance of the country. Men get weary, they become disheartened and tire of each other's society. There is little to arouse their interest. It is a great break in the monotony to meet unexpectedly another party of prospectors. This is what happened to Talbot and his companions. He records it thus:

“At what is now known as Gnarlbine Rock we met four prospectors with a native. One of them was Jack Reidy, and the others were Hogan, Cherry and Johnson. We camped with them for the night, told them our intentions and gave them the news from the town in general. Reidy showed us where Bayley's tracks turned north-east off Hunt's track that we had been following. He said they had camped near where Bayley and Ford were, they had several talks with them, and Reidy's

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party put in a few days' prospecting, got several bits of gold, but nothing worth reporting. We tried to persuade them to return with us, but they said they had enough of it and had no rations. They intended to return to the Cross, work for a while and then have another try at prospecting later on.

“The following morning we bid good-bye to Reidy's party and started on the trail. That night we camped at a rock some nine miles from what is now Coolgardie. Our ponies got away from us, and that made us late in starting in the morning. The following evening we camped at a gnamma hole in which there was water. There were several fresh horse-tracks about, so we knew we were not far from where Bayley was camped.

“Next morning off we went again. I was on foot. I was a good tracker and led the way. After going about half a mile over ironstone country, I was surprised to hear the words ‘Good-morning.’ I looked up and saw in front of me, Bayley. We all had a talk.

“I told him we were prospecting, and he said, ‘There's a bit of good country worth prospecting right here.’ Pointing to what was afterwards known as Fly Flat, which was a few hundred yards away, he remarked, ‘That flat is worth a trial.’

“Because of what he told us we returned to the gnamma hole and put up our camp there. We decided to give the country a trial. After dinner we went to have a look around. We put in a bit of work on Fly Flat, and between us we got over an ounce of gold that afternoon. I picked up a small

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nugget, and I now carry that nugget on my watch-chain. Several days were spent by us fossicking, getting a little gold here and there, as gold could be got almost anywhere.

“Bayley and Ford were camped at the north-west end of a huge white quartz blow, known as the Big Blow. Ford was working a small leader which was about worked out, being only a surface show but good. Bayley was mostly away from the camp. He prospected a distance of from twenty to twenty-five miles around, camping out a night or so whilst Ford stayed and worked the leader. Bayley found Red Hill and specked several ounces alluvial on that field. When he returned from his outside trips he would often have a yarn with us, but Ford was an old ‘hatter’ who would never have a conversation. Evidently he looked on us as if we had no right to be there, and gave us the impression that he feared we might rob his camp.

“One beautiful morning in September, 1892, we went out prospecting as usual. The sun was shining, the sky blue, there was a cold snap in the atmosphere that created a fresh feeling. We went to where we had picked up a few specks and some specimens the evening before and thought we might find a leader or a payable reef about. Soon one of us picked up a specimen that was very rich. Then we specked about following the traces up the side of a hill. Before we got to the top we found abundance of gold, in fact gold appeared all about us. It was glittering in the sunlight for at least twenty yards in front of us. Needless to say we were thrilled. I think for quite a few minutes we

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went off our heads with excitement. Our thinking powers quickly returned. In less than half an hour we gathered £1,700 worth of gold and specimens. On the top of the ridge was the cap of the reef with gold in plenty studded in hard quartz. This El Dorado was to become afterwards the famous Bayley's Reward reef. Great was our delight, not knowing how we were to lose it. We had no thought of pegging it out.

“A heap of rich specimens was collected by us. They were too valuable to leave lying about and too great for us to carry to our camp. We thought it wise to plant most of them in a hole we had sunk the day before in a hollow when trying for alluvial. About a sugar bag full of specimens was carried down and fresh dirt was thrown over them. This was the means of our losing the mine. In this heap there was not less than £700 worth of gold. Bayley told me so afterwards. The richest specimens we carried to our camp. Our coats were off and we tied the sleeves, filled them with golden quartz and so carried them.

“When leaving with our loads it was about 12.30 p.m. It was near dinner-time. We were all planning and talking and building castles in the air. Our fortunes were made, in our opinion, and we were full of joy and happiness. The bush was thick, and we thought we would make a short cut and go back a way none of us had travelled before. We were too excited to note the direction we were going. After walking for about half an hour and not reaching our destination we began to realise we were lost—bushed. We wandered

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most of the afternoon, but stuck to our loads and became fatigued and knocked up. Just before dark we climbed the highest hill we could see and tried to locate ourselves. The hill was later known as Toorak. The night was calm and still. Not even the lightest breeze was blowing. About midnight we heard a horse bell. Off we struck in the direction from which the sound came and we found our horses. They were near our camp, standing over the rock hole waiting for a drink. We watered them, then went to the camp, and turned in quite knocked out.

“It was natural that after our tiring adventure we should sleep rather late next morning. After breakfast we left for our reef find, taking with us an axe, tools, etc. By this time our excitement had cooled down and we had returned to sanity.

“On our arrival, to our dismay, we found Bayley and Ford busy pegging our find. We protested. They said all was fair in this game and that we were three young fools and should have pegged the ground.

“An argument ensued, and Ford took out a revolver and threatened to shoot. Bayley said to Ford, ‘Put away that gun, there's to be no shooting.’

“Bayley added, ‘There will be a great boom soon; you fellows should peg on to our pegs on the south of the lease we have pegged, and if you don't make a mess of things you will get £5,000 or £6,000 for it.’ Bayley also said, ‘We have only pegged a short distance south of the rich shoot.’ This was right.

  ― 96 ―

“The specimens loaded with gold that we buried were kept by Bayley and Ford. They picked out the richest and dollied the poorer ones. Bayley brought all this gold to Southern Cross. It caused a sensation, and so Bayley and Ford secured Bayley's Reward mine.

“Bayley told me it had been their intention to shift camp the morning they discovered the gold find we had made but failed to peg out. Had we discovered the find one day later Bayley and Ford's names would never have been associated with it. The specimens we brought to our camp contained 340 ounces of gold. Bayley was agreeable to let us stand in with him, but Ford stood firm and would not agree.

“We three were young men, strange to the country, and were bluffed out of the mine and the gold by two older and more experienced men. We pegged the lease afterwards known as Bayley's South. We knew so little of the ways of the world that we were even done out of that. There was a man in whom we had confidence. We thought his knowledge and influence would be of use to us in the disposal of the lease. At his instigation we agreed to accept £800 for our lease. He got £200 for what he did and we thought it all right, but subsequently we found out that he had stood in with the purchasers.”

Photograph Facing Page 96: A Native Prisoner Taken to be Tried.

The theory advanced by some of the early Coolgardie prospectors was that Bayley and Ford had pegged a prospecting area which took in part of the

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rich chute referred to by Talbot as discovered by his party. When they saw the chute the morning after it was found and it was not in their ground they moved a couple of pegs sufficiently to embrace the whole of the chute. In shifting the pegs they were legally within their rights, as the other men had failed to peg the ground and so protect themselves. It was also asserted that Talbot's two mates wanted to peg the chute, but Talbot said Bayley and Ford were going to leave the locality and they would then have all the ground they wished. Hence the three men's loss.